Lawsuit Filed to Protect Endangered Sea Turtles and Rare Albatross From Deadly Hawaii Swordfish Longline Fishery

November 2, 2012 / Honolulu — Earthjustice filed a lawsuit today in federal district court, on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity and Turtle Island Restoration Network, challenging a new rule by the National Marine Fisheries Service that doubles the number of endangered sea turtles allowed to be entangled and killed by Hawaii’s longline swordfish fishery. The suit brought under the Endangered Species Act and other federal environmental laws, aims to stop the Fisheries Service from allowing the fishery to cause the deaths of far too many endangered loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles, as well as migratory seabirds.

Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta)

Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) © Picasa Creative Commons / Joseph & Farideh

”The Fisheries Service has, yet again, abdicated its conservation duties and bowed to the longliners’ insatiable appetite for more endangered wildlife,” said Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff, who has been challenging the fishery’s violations for many years. “We will continue to fight for these magnificent creatures as long as the Service continues to ignore the law.”

Conservation groups are opposing the new federal rule that allows the fishery to kill 34 endangered loggerheads and 26 critically endangered leatherbacks (previously it has been 17 loggerheads and 16 leatherbacks). One of the biggest threats to the survival of these sea turtles is longline fishing as these turtles drown or become seriously injured due to hooking on the fishing gear while trying to take bait or becoming entangled while swimming through the nearly invisible fishing lines.

“The ocean’s largest sea turtles will soon be extinct unless they’re protected from drowning in fishing gear. It’s tragic that these large commercial fisheries are killing animals by the thousands for the sake of a few profitable swordfish,” said Miyoko Sakashita, the Center’s oceans director.

“The Hawaii longline fishery indiscriminately spreads its 60-mile long wall of deadly hooks without regard for the untold number of sea turtles, dolphins and seabirds it kills and injures,” said Todd Steiner, biologist and executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network. “It is a shame that we must constantly file lawsuits to enforce even the modest protections that these threatened animals are legally guaranteed under the Endangered Species Act. It may be time to consider phasing out this irresponsible fishing technique.”

Fishing lines are also dangerous for seabirds that also dive for the bait and become hooked, as well as for albatross populations. The filed lawsuit therefore challenges a permit issued by the Fish and Wildlife Service that allows the fishery to catch Laysan and black-footed albatrosses without requiring the mitigation method the Service has acknowledged could save these increasingly rare birds.

Source: CBD